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The Kids Are All Right

Sunday, July 25th, 2010 8:06 pm—Film

The Kids Are All Right (USA 2010, Comedy), Writers: Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg; Director: Lisa Cholodenko

The Kids Are All Right is a simple story about a family experiencing growing pains. True, the topics up for dinnertime discussion are slightly less conventional than those taking place in most houses on the block (sperm donors; lesbian interest in male-on-male porn). But in spite of its unorthodox architecture, this family is always treated with the utmost respect by the filmmakers. That respect, combined with great dialogue and superb acting, is what makes me recommend this film so highly.

The family is: lesbian couple Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening), their biological children Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson), and the children’s sperm donor father, Paul (Mark Ruffalo). Until now, Jules and Nic have raised their daughter and son on their own. But when Joni turns 18, she and her younger brother decide to contact their father.

What follows is a light, heartfelt, often funny exploration of family dynamics and boundaries that focuses on immediate issues and concerns—as opposed to making a larger statement on sexuality and gender roles. Co-writer and director Lisa Cholodenko makes no apology for Jules and Nic’s lifestyle choices, and keeps the film relatively drama-free. As a result, we’re allowed to share in the experience of a family that strays from the nuclear tradition, without being burdened by the stigma that too often surrounds homosexuality.

(This honest, authentic look at non-traditional families and homosexuality is reminiscent of another excellent film, Shortbus (see the Shortbus review from July 2007), which, by coincidence, I wrote about exactly three years ago. Shortbus has a smaller target audience, but it’s a very unique film with a lot of layers, and one I’d recommend to anyone interested in broadening their perspective.)

The Kids Are All Right also offers an honest portrayal of a second often-stigmatized occurrence: marriage. In a world where the humdrum of a lifelong commitment to one person—a commitment that requires work and compromise—is so often sneered at, it’s gratifying to see a couple that has had its share of challenges but isn’t ready to fold at the first sign of difficulty. As Jules says, marriage is “a f—–g marathon!” that only gets more complicated as the partners age and change. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort. It comes with a family—a home—and as long as you choose the right partner, there’s nothing like going the distance together.

If you’re looking for something thoughtful and funny amid the high-voltage drama of Salt or Inception, you can’t go wrong with The Kids Are All Right. Simple though the story may be, it brings normalcy and understanding to subjects that many people could benefit from being enlightened about. And the performances really are outstanding across the board. Moore, Bening and Ruffalo have already proven their chops in countless films, and they don’t disappoint here. As Joni, young Wasikowska (who starred as Alice in Tim Burton’s recent Alice in Wonderland) looks poised to become a huge breakout star in the coming years.

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This post is for AB, a dear friend who is about to get married, and who had the courage to create her own version of happiness.

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